Thousands flee as Arizona wildfire nearly triples in size

A wind-driven Arizona wildfire nearly tripled Wednesday after burning dozens of structures and forcing thousands to flee their homes in a drought-stricken rural area.
The fire, dubbed the Tunnel Fire, spread northeast over largely unpopulated hills and valleys 14 miles (23 km) north of Flagstaff, Arizona, according to a statement from the US Forest Service.
The flames burned 16,625 acres, an area larger than Manhattan, moving through Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, which has a visitor center and hiking trails, according to the statement.
Driven by traditional gusty spring winds, the fire forced more than 2,000 residents from their homes, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors said.
At least 25 structures burned after the fire tore through parts of the Wupatki Trails and Timberline Estates communities, which are built in pine forest, the county sheriff’s office said.
The area is part of a swath of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado caught in more than two decades of unrelenting drought after average temperatures in the area rose about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century, according to data from the Institute of Desert Research. and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
About 360 miles to the east, an elderly couple died at their home in Ruidoso, New Mexico, last week when a wildfire destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee the mountainous city.

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